Ohio’s state school board on Monday debated its final high school graduation proposal for the Class of 2021 and beyond, with members disagreeing on training needs and others upset about how much time they had to review the plans.
The new rules would allow students to earn a diploma by showing skills in a variety of ways, rather than just tests.
The board is set to vote on recommendations Tuesday, and the state legislature hopes to approve the final rules by July 1.
In November, the state school board recommended that 2021 and beyond students be allowed to earn a diploma by showing skills in a variety of ways (rather than just tests) in five areas — English, math, technology, other academic subjects and leadership/social development.
After discussions with state business leaders — a step the state legislature mandated last year — state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria added some accountability steps to that November document to ensure those non-test options are evaluated consistently across the state.
Some state school board members pushed back Monday, frustrated that they got only one day’s notice of a graduation task force meeting last week, then received a detailed seven-page recommendation, with one chance to discuss it before Tuesday’s scheduled vote. They also worried about the amount of training and support the state would have to create quickly.
“I think we have to be careful that we don’t put too much (detail in), so we’re not locked into something that we haven’t thought through,” state board member Martha Manchester said. “My first concern is with the guidance and the training that would go into the (student project options). I think we need to respect the teaching profession and realize that many of our teachers have much experience evaluating capstone projects.”
While some board members argued Tuesday is too soon to vote, Nick Owens, who represents Greene and Clark counties on the state board, said even if the timing is not ideal, the group needs to vote now, given an April 1 deadline set by the legislature.
“When the General Assembly asks for our input, and we choose not to answer them because we’re stuck in the weeds about what the specifics might be, I think that makes us look foolish,” Owens said. “We’ve put so much time into the graduation requirements … I think we have to submit something,” he said, adding that the legislative process is fluid, and state education officials can continue the conversation in the coming months.
Graduation rules for current high school seniors and juniors were already set in December, when the legislature extended non-test pathways to a diploma. Those students still have to pass the required 20 classroom credits and take all state “end-of-course” tests.
But if their state test scores are not sufficient, they can graduate by hitting any two of nine markers, including 93 percent attendance (seniors only), a 2.5 GPA, a “capstone” project, 120 work/community service hours and other options. There’s also an SAT/ACT graduation option, and a career tech option.
If the general framework the state school board recommended last fall is approved, current sophomores and younger students would be allowed to earn a diploma by showing skills in a variety of ways.
For example, a student might meet the English requirement via a state test but meet the math standard via their GPA in school classes, and qualify in their other subjects and leadership via a deep project called a “culminating student experience.”
DeMaria said business leaders were less fond of including a major project (called a culminating student experience) in the graduation pathways. Here’s a quick summary of what DeMaria suggested:
** The state would train teachers and others how to evaluate projects and other non-test graduation options, using a rubric aimed at reducing bias and subjectivity in scoring.
** A random sample of those projects and other “demonstrations of learning” would be re-scored by outside parties to check for differences. Schools’ scoring practices would be periodically reviewed with the potential for “corrective action in cases where significant discrepancies are found.” The corrective action would be limited to changing school procedures going forward, not taking away diplomas that had been awarded.
** Schools would report via the EMIS data system which pathway each student used to meet English and math graduation requirements, so that data can be tracked.
** DeMaria suggested an expanded “early warning and intervention protocol” to identify students who are struggling as they transition from middle school to high school, and to identify specific intervention strategies to help them develop better math and English skills.
DeMaria acknowledged it’s an aggressive timeline to get the changes implemented for the Class of 2021, but he thinks it’s doable.
State school board vice president Charlotte McGuire, who represents much of the Dayton and Hamilton areas, said the state board owes it to students to come up with a solid long-term option. But she said the board has to balance the need for high expectations with the fact that students are different, and a “cookie-cutter approach” is not realistic.